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Pickleball comes to Lansing, Illinois

New courts at Lions Park attract regular players from throughout the region

Pickleball Lansing IL
Tom Iverson (green shirt) and a growing group of pickleball players head to Lions Park in Lansing, Illinois, three times a week. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
by Ashlee De Wit

LANSING, Ill. (September 2017) – At least three mornings a week, the bright blue and yellow pickleball courts at Lions Park in Lansing are full of friendly athletes—and they’re looking for more players to join them.

The group used to meet on the indoor courts at the H-F Racquetball Club. “We played there for a year, and at that point, the [Park District of the] Village of Lansing made four beautiful courts at Lions Park,” said Bob Cross, a Flossmoor resident. “They are the nicest outdoor courts any of us had ever seen.”

Lansing is one of the few towns in the area with dedicated pickleball courts. Having four courts together means more people can play. And having the courts enclosed by a fence means less time chasing balls between shots.

About 28 people are in this informal club, which meets Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10:00 a.m. until noon at Lions Park (176th and William Street). As many as 17 people show up to play on any given day, traveling to Lansing from Flossmoor, Tinley Park, and Frankfort, as well as Schererville and St. John, Ind. The club has even had guests from Idaho: visitors to Lansing who found the courts in a Google search.

Pickleball Lansing IL
Rita Olson

Rita Olson, of Lansing, helps organize the group. “Most of us are here for fun and exercise,” she said between games. “We would love newbies. We want people to join us.”

The pickleball craze

Pickleball isn’t a new sport, though it is new to Lansing. “The people who play pickleball often come from tennis or racquetball, and some are ping-pong players,” Cross said. The game is played much like tennis, but with a few unique aspects—including underhand serving and a “no volley” zone on each side of the net, an area known as “the kitchen.”

“We teach [newcomers] how to hit, and maybe some strategy, and then we throw them in with the group,” Cross said. “It’s easy to learn, and people who play in this group really love it. I think there are many more people who would come out if they knew about it.”

The group meets throughout the spring and summer and into the fall—until members start making their way to warmer locations.

Playing year round

Cross and his wife, Julie, both winter in Florida, and so do Olson and her husband, Howard. The Olsons are residents of The Villages, a 55+ community near Orlando, Fla., that is known for its pickleball. It has more than 100 pickleball courts on site, and offers tournaments and clinics.

Carol Metzcus believes the sport is popular among seniors because there is less running involved than in tennis, and less danger of taking a spill. But that doesn’t mean it’s a slow or relaxing game. “There’s a lot of reaching and movement,” she said. “And great cardio-vascular.”

Not just for seniors

One of the youngest players at Lions Park is Shannon Krzeminski. Athletic and intense, she is a nationally-ranked USTA singles tennis player and often joins the Lions Park pickleball players during her lunch hour.

Krzeminski explained that even though the pickleball court is smaller, the ball doesn’t bounce like a tennis ball, so you have to get to it more quickly. She appreciates the workout.

“I like that there are similar shots to tennis,” she said. “It has improved my tennis game tremendously.”

Join the craze

You don’t have to be a ranked tennis player, a star athlete, or any kind of pickleball expert to play in this club. The Lions Park group is planning to ask the Park District to keep the nets up longer this year so they can keep playing “until the snow flies.”

For more information about pickleball, or to reserve the pickleball equipment that is available for checkout, call the Eisenhower Fitness Center: 708-474-8552.

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Ashlee De Wit
Ashlee De Wit
Ashlee De Wit is a freelance writer and a Lansing native. After starting her career covering high school sports in Iowa, she's excited to be back in her hometown, reporting the stories of her local community — such as the opening of Troost, the informal Lansing pickleball club, a TF South Homecoming game, and Common Ground, Lansing's experiment with healthy race relations.